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BC health workers back on job as government modifies plans for cuts.

VICTORIA -- Forty three thousand striking British Columbia health care workers returned to work after a Memorandum of Agreement was signed between their union, the Health Employees' Union, and the British Columbia government on the eve of a province-wide day of protest by public and private sector employees in support of the HEU members backed by most of the provinces unions.

The province had proposed an 11% reduction in pay scales retroactive to April 1, 2004 and continued contracting out of jobs by health care institutions.

The HEU members, who work in hospitals and other health care settings across the province, had been on strike for four days when the province introduced back-to-work legislation, Bill 37, that included the per cent retroactive pay cut to April 1, 2004, penalties and fines for those who refused to return to work and a continuation of the government's and employers' plans to contract out the health care workers' jobs.

In defiance of that legislation, the HEU members continued to walk the picket line for four days longer, and were poised to receive province-wide support from the Canadian Union of Public Employees plus private sector unions, such as the International Woodworkers of America.

Describing the Memorandum as "far from perfect," Chris Alnutt, HEU secretary- business manager noted the agreement "limits some of the worst aspects of Bill 37 and puts a hard cap on contracting out."

Although the two-year Memorandum of Agreement still contains a wage reduction of 11 per cent but with no retroactivity, it also contains a clear restriction on the number of jobs that may be contracted out during the lifetime of the contract with no more than 400 full-time employee lay offs in the first year and no more than 200 full-time employees in the second year.

The government also agreed to an enhanced severance fund of $25 million for severance payments to health workers who currently have lay-off notices "and for those who may receive layoff notices between May 1, 2004 and March 31, 2006.

No HEU member nor the union itself will be subject to disciplinary action or fines as a result of actions taken during the strike, including the four-day protest picket lines against Bill 37. Any outstanding contract issues that are unresolved between the union and the Health Employers' Association of B.C. by May 31, 2004 will be submitted to arbitrator Vince Ready for arbitration.
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Title Annotation:Health; British Columbia
Publication:Community Action
Geographic Code:1CBRI
Date:May 17, 2004
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